Ninotchka is a 1939 American film made for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer by producer and director Ernst Lubitsch and starring Greta Garbo and Melvyn Douglas.[1] It is written by Billy Wilder, Charles Brackett, and Walter Reisch,[1] based on a screen story by Melchior Lengyel. Ninotchka is Greta Garbo's first full comedy, and her penultimate film. It is one of the first American movies which, under the cover of a satirical, light romance, depicted the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin as being rigid and gray, in this instance comparing it with the free and sunny Parisian society of pre-war years.

Film ninotchka
Theatrical release poster
Directed byErnst Lubitsch
Produced byErnst Lubitsch
Sidney Franklin
Screenplay byMelchior Lengyel
Charles Brackett
Billy Wilder
Walter Reisch
Story byMelchior Lengyel
StarringGreta Garbo
Melvyn Douglas
Ina Claire
Music byWerner R. Heymann
CinematographyWilliam H. Daniels
Edited byGene Ruggiero
Distributed byMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date
November 9, 1939
Running time
110 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$1,365,000 (est.)
Box office$2.3 million


Three Soviet agents, Iranoff (Sig Ruman), Buljanoff (Felix Bressart), and Kopalski (Alexander Granach), arrive in Paris to sell jewelry confiscated from the aristocracy during the Russian Revolution of 1917.

Count Alexis Rakonin (Gregory Gaye), a Russian nobleman reduced to employment as a waiter in the hotel where the trio are staying, overhears details of their mission and informs the former Russian Grand Duchess Swana (Ina Claire) that her court jewels are to be sold by the three men. Her debonair paramour, Count Leon d'Algout (Melvyn Douglas) offers to help retrieve her jewelry before it is sold.

In their hotel suite, Iranoff, Buljanoff and Kopalski negotiate with Mercier (Edwin Maxwell) a prominent Parisian jeweler, when Leon interrupts the meeting. He explains that the jewels are stolen and a petition has been filed preventing their sale or removal. Mercier withdraws his offer to purchase the jewelry until the lawsuit is settled.

The amiable and charming Leon treats the three Russians to an extravagant lunch, gets them drunk and easily wins their confidence and friendship. He sends a telegram to Moscow in their name suggesting a compromise.

Moscow, angered by the telegram, then sends Nina Ivanovna "Ninotchka" Yakushova (Greta Garbo), a special envoy whose goal is to win the lawsuit, complete the jewelry sale and bring back the three renagade Russians. Ninotchka is methodical, rigid and stern, chastising Iranoff, Buljanoff and Kopalski for failing to complete their mission.

Ninotchka and Leon first meet outside the hotel, their respective identities unknown to one another. He flirts, but she is uninterested. Intrigued, Leon follows her to the Eiffel Tower and shows her his home through a telescope. Intrigued by his behavior, Ninotchka tells him he might warrant study and suggests they go to his apartment. Ninotchka becomes attracted to Leon and eventually they kiss, but they are interrupted by a phone call from Buljanoff. Ninotchka and Leon both realize they are each others adversaries over the jewelry and she leaves the apartment, despite Leon's protestations.

While attending to the various legal matters over the lawsuit, Ninotchka gradually becomes seduced by the west and by Leon, who has broken down her resistance and fallen in love with her. At a dinner date with Leon where she unexpectedly meets her rival for the jewelry and for Leon's affections, Swana face-to-face, she consumes champagne for the first time and quickly becomes intoxicated. The next day, a hungover Ninotchka wakes to find that Swana has procured Rakonin to steal the jewelry. Swana informs Ninotchka that she will return the jewels and drop the litigation if Ninotchka leaves Paris for Moscow immediately so that Swana can have Leon to herself. Ninotchka reluctantly agrees and after completing the sale of the jewelry to Mercier, Ninotchka, Iranoff, Buljanoff and Kopalski fly that evening to Moscow. After Swana informs Leon that Ninotchka has left for Russia, he immediately tries to follow her, but is denied a Russian visa, because of his nobility. Some time later in Moscow, Ninotchka invites her three comrades to her room for dinner and they nostalgically recall their time in Paris. Ninotchka finally receives a letter from Leon, but it has been completely censored by the authorities, and she is devastated. Time passes. Ninotchka is sent to Constantinople by Commissar Razinin (Bela Lugosi) to again retrieve Iranoff, Buljanoff and Kopalski after they fail at their mission to sell furs. After she arrives in Constantinople, the three Russians inform Ninotcka that they have opened a restaurant and will not be returning to Moscow. When Ninotchka asks them who was responsible for this idea, they point to Leon, who explains that he was barred from entering Russia to win Ninotchka back, so he and the three conspired to get her to leave the country. He asks her to stay with him and she happily agrees. The final shot in the film is of Kopalski carrying a sign protesting Iranoff and Buljanoff are unfair, after his name on the electric sign at their restaurant does not illuminate.



The movie was released in late 1939, shortly after the outbreak of World War II in Europe, where it became a great success. It was, however, banned in the Soviet Union and its satellites. Despite that, it went on to make $2,279,000 worldwide.

In a play on the famous "Garbo Talks!" ad campaign used for her "talkie" debut in Anna Christie (1930), Ninotchka was marketed with the catchphrase "Garbo Laughs!", commenting on Garbo's serious and melancholy image and implying she had not laughed or played comedy before. However, her canon reveals this not to be the case. Although all her previous films were dramatic, Garbo had occasions to laugh in several of them. In Queen Christina (1933), she disguises herself as a man and jokes with her co-star John Gilbert and others throughout the first half of the picture. In Camille (1936), she feigns exuberant laughter in a dramatic scene with actor Henry Daniell.


Greta Garbo as Nina Ivanovna "Ninotchka" Yakushova and Melvyn Douglas as Count Léon d'Algout

Critical response

When the film was first released, The New York Times film critic Frank S. Nugent praised it:

The comedy, through Mr. Douglas's debonair performance and those of Ina Claire as the duchess and Sig Rumann, Felix Bressart and Alexander Grannach as the unholy three emissaries; through Mr. Lubitsch's facile direction; and through the cleverly written script of Walter Reisch, Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder, has come off brilliantly. Stalin, we repeat, won't like it; but, unless your tastes hew too closely to the party line, we think you will, immensely.[2]

More recently, in 2008, film critic Dennis Schwartz discussed the humor of Ninotchka:

The sly political jokes include Garbo saying: "The last mass trials were a great success. There are going to be fewer but better Russians" and there are a few well-placed jokes mocking the failed Soviet Five-Year-Plan. The most noteworthy Lubitsch touch scene revolves around a stag feast in a luxury hotel ordered by capitalist Douglas for the three grateful comrade emissaries, who can't believe their good fortune. The film was funny in spots, but I thought it was also crude, lacked the usual Lubitsch subtleties, was not up to speed with the better earlier Lubitsch comedies and that the last half hour really slowed things down with an uninteresting artificial resolution.[3]


An attempt by MGM to re-release Ninotchka later during World War II was suppressed on the grounds that the Soviets were then allies of the West. The film was re-released after the war ended.[4]


In 1955, the musical Silk Stockings opened on Broadway. Written by Cole Porter, the stage production was based on the 1939 story and script and starred Hildegard Neff and Don Ameche. The musical was then adapted by MGM as a 1957 film directed by Rouben Mamoulian and starring Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse. Actor George Tobias, who played the commissar in Silk Stockings, also appeared in an uncredited small role in Ninotchka as the Russian official who gets punched by Leon for refusing him a visa. The MGM films Comrade X (1940), starring Clark Gable and Hedy Lamarr, and The Iron Petticoat (1956), starring Bob Hope and Katharine Hepburn, both borrow heavily from Ninotchka.

In 1990, Ninotchka was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". In 2011, Time also included the film on the magazine's list of "All-Time 100 Movies".[5]

Ninotchka is recognized as well by the American Film Institute in the AFI 100 Years... series in the following lists:

Leon: "Well, I don't have to, but I find it natural."
Ninotchka: "Suppress it." – Nominated[10]


Ninotchka received four Academy Award nominations: Best Picture, Best Actress in a Leading Role, Best Original Story, and Best Screenplay.[12]


Ninotchka is based on a three-sentence story idea by Melchior Lengyel that made its debut at a poolside conference in 1937, when a suitable comedy vehicle for Garbo was being sought by MGM: “Russian girl saturated with Bolshevist ideals goes to fearful, capitalistic, monopolistic Paris. She meets romance and has an uproarious good time. Capitalism not so bad, after all.”[13][14][15]


  1. ^ a b "Ninotchka". Turner Classic Movies. Atlanta: Turner Broadcasting System (Time Warner). Retrieved August 19, 2016.
  2. ^ Nugent, Frank S. The New York Times, film review, November 10, 1939. Last accessed: December 24, 2013.
  3. ^ Schwartz, Dennis. Ozus' World Movie Reviews, film review, February 20, 2008. Last accessed: December 24, 2013.
  4. ^ Lee Kennett, For the Duration. . . : The United States Goes To War p 164 ISBN 0-684-18239-4
  5. ^ Corliss, Richard (2011). "All-Time 100 Movies", Time, October 3, 2011. Retrieved 2018-01-16.
  6. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (1998 edition)" (PDF). American Film Institute. Retrieved 2017-01-28.
  7. ^ "America's Funniest Movies" (PDF). American Film Institute. Retrieved 2017-01-28.
  8. ^ "AFI's 100 Greatest Love Stories of All Time". American Film Institute. Retrieved 2017-01-28.
  9. ^ "AFI's List of Nominated Quotes" (PDF). American Film Institute. Retrieved 2017-01-28.
  10. ^ "AFI's List of Nominated Quotes" (PDF). American Film Institute. Retrieved 2017-01-28.
  11. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (2007 edition)" (PDF). American Film Institute. Retrieved 2017-01-28.
  12. ^ The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. "The 12th Academy Awards, 1940", honoring the films of 1939. Awards presentation at Coconut Grove of the Ambassador Hotel, Los Angeles, California, February 29, 1940. Retrieved January 19, 2018.
  13. ^ Shaw, Tony (2007). Hollywood's Cold War, p. 16. Edinburgh University Press. ISBN 0748630732.
  14. ^ Zolotow, Maurice (1977). Billy Wilder in Hollywood, p. 97. Hal Leonard Corporation. ISBN 0879100702.
  15. ^ Thomson, David (2012). The Big Screen: The Story of the Movies, p. 104. Macmillan. ISBN 0374191891.

External links

12th Academy Awards

The 12th Academy Awards ceremony, presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), honored the best in film for 1939. The ceremony was held on February 29, 1940, at a banquet in the Coconut Grove at The Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. It was hosted by Bob Hope (in his first of nineteen turns as host).

David O. Selznick's production Gone with the Wind received the most nominations of the year with thirteen. Other films receiving multiple nominations included: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington; Wuthering Heights; Goodbye, Mr. Chips; Stagecoach; Love Affair; The Wizard of Oz; The Rains Came; The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex; Ninotchka; Of Mice and Men; and Dark Victory.

This was the first year in which an Academy Award (also known as an Oscar) was awarded in the category of special effects. (Previously, however, "special achievement" awards for effects had occasionally been conferred.) This was also the first time that two awards for cinematography were presented (one for a color film and another for a black-and-white film).

Hattie McDaniel became the first African-American to receive an Academy Award, winning in the Best Supporting Actress category for Gone with the Wind.

1939 in film

The year 1939 in film is widely considered the most outstanding one ever, when it comes to the high quality and high attendance at the large set of the best films that premiered in the year (considered as a percentage of the population in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom at that time).

Billy Wilder

Billy Wilder (; German: [ˈvɪldɐ]; born Samuel Wilder, June 22, 1906 – March 27, 2002) was an Austrian-born American filmmaker, screenwriter, producer, artist, and journalist whose career spanned more than five decades. He is regarded as one of the most brilliant and versatile filmmakers of the Hollywood Golden Age of cinema. With The Apartment, Wilder became the first person to win Academy Awards as producer, director, and screenwriter for the same film.Wilder became a screenwriter in the late 1920s while living in Berlin. After the rise of the Nazi Party, he left for Paris, where he made his directorial debut. He moved to Hollywood in 1933, and in 1939 he had a hit when he co-wrote the screenplay for the romantic comedy Ninotchka, starring Greta Garbo. Wilder established his directorial reputation with an adaption of James M. Cain's Double Indemnity (1944), a film noir. Wilder co-wrote the screenplay with crime novelist Raymond Chandler. Wilder earned the Best Director and Best Screenplay Academy Awards for the adaptation of a Charles R. Jackson story The Lost Weekend (1945), about alcoholism. In 1950, Wilder co-wrote and directed the critically acclaimed Sunset Boulevard, as well as Stalag 17 in 1953.

From the mid-1950s on, Wilder made mostly comedies. Among the classics Wilder created in this period are the farces The Seven Year Itch (1955) and Some Like It Hot (1959), and satires such as The Apartment (1960). He directed fourteen different actors in Oscar-nominated performances. Wilder was recognized with the American Film Institute (AFI) Life Achievement Award in 1986. In 1988, Wilder was awarded the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award. In 1993, he was awarded the National Medal of Arts.

Dulcina de Moraes

Dulcina de Moraes (Valença, February 3, 1908 — Brasília, August 28, 1996) was a Brazilian stage actress and director. Founder of the Fundação Brasileira de Teatro, it was later renamed the Faculty of Arts Dulcina de Moraes, in Brasilia. She married Odilon Azevedo in 1931. As producer she took part in only one act, Ninotchka (1951).

Ernst Lubitsch

Ernst Lubitsch (; January 29, 1892 – November 30, 1947) was a German American film director, producer, writer, and actor. His urbane comedies of manners gave him the reputation of being Hollywood's most elegant and sophisticated director; as his prestige grew, his films were promoted as having "the Lubitsch touch". Among his best known works are Trouble in Paradise, Ninotchka, The Shop Around the Corner and To Be or Not to Be.

In 1946, he received an Honorary Academy Award for his distinguished contributions to the art of the motion picture.

Gene Ruggiero

Gene S. Ruggiero (June 20, 1910 – February 19, 2002) was an American film editor. Originally a golf caddy at an exclusive New York country club, Ruggiero was fired from his job and later went to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer where he was assigned the job of editing. He was initially unhappy with his job and would often skip working to play golf, demoted to assistant editor due to this.

Ruggiero came to prominence after editing the 1939 film Ninotchka. As nobody else would edit the film due to Ernst Lubitsch's reputation, the job was assigned to Ruggiero. He received his first credit on the film, and continued as an editor for the rest of his career. Ruggiero earned an Academy Award for Best Film Editing in 1956 for his work on Around the World in 80 Days, which he shared with Paul Weatherwax. He was also nominated for an Academy Award in 1955 for his editing on Oklahoma!, which he shared with George Boemler.

Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling

Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, also known as GLOW or G.L.O.W., was a women's professional wrestling promotion that began in 1986 (the pilot was filmed in December 1985) and continued in various forms after it left television. Colorful characters, strong women, and over-the-top comedy sketches were integral to the series' success. Most of the performers were actresses, models, dancers or stunt women hoping to enter show business. The Bleacher Report ranked GLOW at #15 on its list of the 25 worst wrestling promotions in 2011.

Greta Garbo

Greta Garbo (born Greta Lovisa Gustafsson; 18 September 1905 – 15 April 1990) was a Swedish-American film actress during the 1920s and 1930s. Garbo was nominated three times for the Academy Award for Best Actress and received an Academy Honorary Award in 1954 for her "luminous and unforgettable screen performances." In 1999, the American Film Institute ranked Garbo fifth on their list of the greatest female stars of classic Hollywood cinema.

Garbo launched her career with a secondary role in the 1924 Swedish film The Saga of Gösta Berling. Her performance caught the attention of Louis B. Mayer, chief executive of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), who brought her to Hollywood in 1925. She immediately stirred interest with her first silent film, Torrent, released in 1926; a year later, her performance in Flesh and the Devil, her third movie, made her an international star.Garbo's first talking film was Anna Christie (1930). MGM marketers enticed the public with the tagline "Garbo talks!" That same year she starred in Romance. For her performances in these films she received the first of three Academy Award nominations for Best Actress. (Academy rules at the time allowed for a performer to receive a single nomination for their work in more than one film). In 1932, her popularity allowed her to dictate the terms of her contract and she became increasingly selective about her roles. Her success continued in films such as Mata Hari (1931) and Grand Hotel (1932). Many critics and film historians consider her performance as the doomed courtesan Marguerite Gautier in Camille (1936) to be her finest. The role gained her a second Academy Award nomination. Garbo's career soon declined, however, and she was one of the many stars labeled "box office poison" in 1938. Her career revived upon her turn to comedy in Ninotchka (1939), which earned her a third Academy Award nomination, but after the failure of Two-Faced Woman (1941), she retired from the screen, at the age of 35, after acting in twenty-eight films.

From then on, Garbo declined all opportunities to return to the screen. Shunning publicity, she led a private life. Garbo also became an art collector in her later life; her collection, including works from painters such as Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Pierre Bonnard, and Kees van Dongen, was worth millions of dollars when she died.

Melvyn Douglas

Melvyn Douglas (born Melvyn Edouard Hesselberg, April 5, 1901 – August 4, 1981) was an American actor. Douglas came to prominence in the 1930s as a suave leading man, perhaps best typified by his performance in the 1939 romantic comedy Ninotchka with Greta Garbo. Douglas later played mature and fatherly characters, as in his Academy Award–winning performances in Hud (1963) and Being There (1979) and his Academy Award–nominated performance in I Never Sang for My Father (1970). In the last few years of his life Douglas appeared in films with supernatural stories involving ghosts. Douglas appeared as "Senator Joseph Carmichael" in The Changeling in 1980 and Ghost Story in 1981 in his final completed film role.

National Board of Review Awards 1939

The 11th National Board of Review Awards were announced on 24 December 1939.

Nina García

Ninotchka "Nina" García (Spanish pronunciation: [niˈna gaɾˈsi.a]; born May 3, 1965) is a Colombian fashion journalist, the editor-in-chief of Elle, and a judge on the Bravo/Lifetime reality television program Project Runway since its first season.

Ninotchka (1960 film)

Ninotchka is a 1960 American TV film. It is a remake of the 1939 film Ninotchka. It was directed by Tom Donovan.

Ninotchka Rosca

Ninotchka Rosca (born 1946, in the Philippines) is a Filipina feminist, author, journalist and human rights activist who is active in AF3IRM [1], the Mariposa Center for Change, Sisterhood is Global and the initiating committee of the Mariposa Alliance (Ma-Al), a multi-racial, multi-ethnic women's activist center for understanding the intersectionality of class, race and gender oppressions, toward a more comprehensive practice of women's liberation. As a novelist, Rosca was a recipient of the American Book Award in 1993 for her novel Twice Blessed.

Silk Stockings

Silk Stockings is a musical with a book by George S. Kaufman, Leueen MacGrath, and Abe Burrows and music and lyrics by Cole Porter. The musical is loosely based on the Melchior Lengyel story Ninotchka and the 1939 film adaptation it inspired. It ran on Broadway in 1955. This was the last musical that Porter wrote for the stage.

Silk Stockings (film)

Silk Stockings is a 1957 Metrocolor Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer CinemaScope musical film adaptation of the 1955 stage musical of the same name, which itself was an adaptation of the film Ninotchka (1939). Silk Stockings was directed by Rouben Mamoulian, produced by Arthur Freed, and starred Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse. The supporting cast includes Janis Paige, Peter Lorre, Jules Munshin, and George Tobias repeating his Broadway role. It was choreographed by Eugene Loring and Hermes Pan.

It received Golden Globe Award nominations for Best Film and Best Actress (Charisse) in the Comedy/Musical category.The score was embellished with the new song "The Ritz Roll and Rock", a parody of the then-emerging rock and roll genre. The number ends with Astaire symbolically smashing his top hat, considered one of his trademarks, signaling his retirement from movie musicals, which he announced following the film's release.

State of War

State of War may refer to:

State of War (game), a 2001 real-time strategy game

State of War (novel), a novel by Ninotchka Rosca

State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration, a documentary review by James Risen

State of War (novel)

State of War, also known as State of War: A Novel, is the first novel written in 1988 by American Book Award recipient and Filipino author Ninotchka Rosca. It was described as a political novel that recreated the diverse culture of the Philippines through the presentation of an allegorical Philippine history.

Twice Blessed

Twice Blessed, also known as Twice Blessed: A Novel, is a 1992 novel written by Filipino author Ninotchka Rosca. It won the 1993 American Book Award for “excellence in literature”. It is one of Rosca’s novels that recreated the diversity of Filipino culture (the other was State of War). Apart from tracing back Philippine History, Rosca also portrayed contemporary Philippine politics, delicate events, and cultural preferences through the novel.


Ēldlive (Japanese: エルドライブ, Hepburn: Erudoraibu, stylized as ēlDLIVE) is a Japanese manga series by Akira Amano. It started serialization via Shueisha's online app Jump Live in August 2013, switching to the digital publication Shonen Jump+ after it launched in September 2014. It has been collected in eleven tankōbon volumes. The first three chapters were published in English by Viz Media in 2014. A 12-episode anime television series adaptation by Pierrot aired between January 8, 2017 and March 26, 2017.

Films directed by Ernst Lubitsch
Feature films
Short films

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